October 2006


Ever stand in the kitchen and have the urge to strike the pose? You whip into a spontaneous Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Triangle Free-Style Flow with a Wide Leg Forward Bend chaser. And you feel so foot-loose and fancy-free. And then it happens. Your feet start sliding. You’re in danger of sliding into the splits, and that wasn’t part of the plan.

I’ve had some close calls. I’m in a pose, I’m in my groove and then the slide starts. And the threat of blowing a hamstring harshes the little buzz I’m trying to grab in the kitchen. But totally by accident I discovered my Crocs are a godsend. (No link. They do well enough and unless you’re living in the forest you *know* what I’m talking about).

I just can’t run around the house in bare feet, socks or slippers. I don’t want to be reminded my floor needs sweeping, I’d never get the socks clean and I need good support for marathon Holiday baking sessions. So I’ve been wearing my Crocs and love ‘em. Since Fall I’ve been wearing socks inside my orange Crocs and oh baby, the husband can’t keep his hands off me! Sorry *can* keep….I meant “can”.

Anyways I discovered by accident that because Crocs are non-slip they’re ideal for spontaneous fits of yoga. My feet DON”T MOVE. Crocs are non-slip even when they’re wet, so you can go ahead and Side Angle straight out of the shower – it’s crazy!

Thanks to my Crocs, if I ever do the splits, you can bet it’ll be planned.

My friend sent me this blog posting by her UCLA writing teacher called Who Moved My Yoga Mat. Someone moved her mat while she was in the bathroom before class and it was a huge annoyance. Can’t we all relate huh? It’s like dammit I’ve come here to GET RELAXED and instead this thing happens to get in my way.

And those experiences can be really intense ‘letting go’ opportunities because you will so not relax if you spend the whole freakin’ class thinking about how annoyed you are. I’m convinced the Universe has a sense of humour, it’s like “oh so you’re gonna relax now huh? what about if I do this? [poke] How about this? Relaxed yet? [poke poke]. It’s too funny. And having a sense of humour really is the best response.

When I was doing yoga teacher training, I was pregnant, and one early a.m. before our 90 minute yoga class a fellow trainee came in and she was really excited to hear I was expecting. She’d had two kids and she promptly sat down to talk to me and moved right into telling me about her birth experiences. And it was like I had “spare no gory detail” written on my forehead. I was horrified. She shared really gruesome stuff. I felt dumped on. I would have much rather been gently stretching and buying my ticket on the Bliss train.

I spent the yoga class trying to let go of this experience. I was angry. All my fears about childbirth reared their ugly heads. But I just kept trying to keep focus on my breath and my body. Somehow by the end of the class I felt a little steadier. I even felt a little compassionate towards her because I know she *was* happy for me.

When the class ended she came over to me and apologized. She realized she’d committed an “over-share” of waaay too much information. I started crying my eyes out because all the emotions that had been churned up combined with my hormones were pretty lethal. But it was a really good cleansing cry. We’d already connected so we were able to get closure together. It ended up being the best thing for me.

What do you need to let go of before your next yoga session starts?

I had a falling out with a friend a couple of years ago. I was angry at first. I never break up with friends, this was pretty new. And then I got past the anger enough to see some stuff about myself I needed to work on. I ended up feeling OK about her. When she came to mind I simply wished her well.

She emailed me out of the blue a while back. We both like to write a good email, so we kept a thread going for a bit, back and forth. We got caught up. We made each other laugh and we touched base on things about each other that not many people really know.

It was quiet for a bit and then we just sent a couple emails again. It feels really good. There are no expectations, but there’s familiarity there. It’s like putting on your old favourite shoes and walking around the room. I need to have more definitions of friend. I hold my friends so close and expect so much. I’m as faithful and loyal as an old pooch. But I need to allow people other options for being in my life and I think I’m getting there. It’s pretty freeing.

There are so many people I know who had some kind of religious background, ditched it for whatever reason and feel like, well that’s it. My career is over. Like they got kicked out of the quilting bee so now they’re only option is to stay home and watch soap operas by themselves. But I sense from so many of these people that they’d *like* to feel more spiritually connected in their life.

I read Money Drunk, Money Sober- because I’m a Julia Cameron fan. And in the context of the 12 step process where you give your issues over to a higher power they say that if your image of God is lousy – find a better one.

I thought I was stuck with the image of God I’d been given as a kid. But when I looked at it, it makes total sense that we get the God we deserve. In other words – if I believe I’m inherently bad, need to be punished and there isn’t enough to go around guess how I’m going to see God? That’s right, a nasty school master miserly doling out the treats when I happen to be deserving – like never. And that may be some people’s God, but not mine.

Deepak Chopra has a book called How to Know God and it gets deep into this. He reviews the various visions of God based on how one views the world and even one’s personality. It’s a great way to understand what kind of view of God you were handed, and what it could be. I found myself using it as a way to glimpse other God images And understand how I could bring my own up a notch. God can be about inuition, creativity and bliss? Sign me up for a piece of that :-)

There’s a bit in the Upanishads that says – People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate — and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.

No matter which river I take, I’m going to reach a better version of God.

Last night I threw in a Half Moon pose at the end of a flow with my Power Yoga class. And I could tell everyone was going into “oh no, this is a hard pose and I’m going to really suck at it”. And I looked around at the class and there were 9 professional women who are busy achiever types, most have kids and spouses. They’re beautiful, talented and wonderful. And they’re pretty much used to doing everything well.

And it really struck me how a challenging pose like Half Moon can be a great opportunity to beat ourselves up or be playful. It can be an opportunity to demand perfection and be cheesed off at anything less. Or it can be an open field to just see what happens.

It’s interesting because we always want to *do* the complete pose. But if we’re trying to find ease in each pose, if we’re trying to find a place of not striving and efforting, then that means being ok with not doing the pose 100%. It means being OK with not looking like the model in Yoga Journal, or like your teacher or like the picture in your head.

Sometimes you have to hack the pose. So rather than telling the class how to do the pose perfectly, I suggested the steps to getting into to. I suggested putting the limbs in position first, turning the torso open next and straightening the standing leg last. And I suggested they stay at any of those places just to hang out.

I love doing movements with breath in class. It forces people to breath deeply which ensures that even the breathing resisters will feel great by the end of class. And it encourages awareness – you’re finding your edge with every breath so your mind can’t easily wander. I also like it because once I’ve given the instruction everyone does it on their own to the rhythm of their own breath. I figure at best this helps build their own sense of self-direction in their yoga practive and at the very least ensures they won’t have to listen to me yack non-stop for the class.

Here are 4 active poses that I like:

Core. Building core strength is so important and I like to do integrative work that builds awareness of our core. Go into sphinx and then with an exhale use your core strength to bring your hips off the ground, bringing your torso and hips into one long line. Exhale back down, gently press your chest forward. Work the details when you lift your hips – tuck your tail, focus on engaging your whole core, keep your shoulder blades rpessed down your back throughout.

Core with a Twist. Lay on your back, arms in a T position and bend knees so they’re over your hips. Take a deep inhale and as you exhale drop knees to one side but stop a few inches above the floor. Hold until exhale is complete, then use those core muscles to inhale them back up. Repeat, going back and forth a few times. Don’t let your knees drop to your chest, keep then at right angles. The last time, relax knees to the floor, turn to look in the opposite direction and hold the twist for a few breaths. Change sides.

Lunge with Breath. There are two options – sink into a high lunge with arms up (Warrior 1 style) on the inhale, and then straighten the front leg and lower arms to the side with an exhale. Repeat. For a less strenuous version use a shorter stride and bend both front and back leg, using the same arm motion. In this version, your front knee shouldn’t go ahead of your ankle, but your back knee can drop as far as you like so that you come up on your toes. If you feel any knee discomfort do less and avoid it.

Chair to Forward Bend with a side of Back Bend. This is actually a flow of poses that mixes back bends and forward bends together, it’s insta-bliss. Exhale into Chair, inhale up to standing keeping arms up. To add a back bend here, press your chest forward and lift your gaze. Then exhale and swan dive slowly into Forward Bend. Inhale and roll back up sweeping arms wide (back bend here too if you like). Then on the next exhale sink back into Chair. Repeat. Try to make your breaths as long as you can with slow measured movements.

I went to a Sarah Powers’ workshop once and she said, “what we think of as aging is really just neglect”. Sarah is big into long slow stretches. She does Yin Yoga. In that style they stay in poses for a long time to really juice the joints. See Paul Grilley’s article on it here and check out his book here.

Ever held Pigeon pose for 5 whole minutes? It’s really tough. All kinds of things come up and that seems to be the point. Sarah says that it’s about learning to be flexible about our flexibility. You spend the time just being in the pose, softening, learning to accept what comes up.

She talked about coming face-to-face with what you cling to, and what you have aversions to. An aversion is *anytime* you wait for something different instead of just accepting what is. Wow, sometimes I spend the whole day in aversion. And you definitely experience aversion to the way your hip aches from holding Pigeon for so long. But you get to practice accepting that. In Yin Yoga you’ve got the time and have the focus because you’re not about to jump to the next pose. Our own yoga mat is such an ideal place to practice that kind of thing. It’s safe. It’s a practice ground for the rest of our life.

I get along with most people at work. But there is one woman who kinda gets under my skin. She has a serious board up her butt – you know the kind right? So Friday afternoon at work I’m in wind-down mode for a long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. We’d sent out a project for review the day before and that Friday afternoon I get an email from her, yes her, with a critique of our project. Or sorry, not one critique but six, carefully numbered items with bolded titles and illustrations of how the project *should* have been done. I could feel my blood pressure go up 10 or a million points. I ranted. I decided her email could sit in my STAR folder (Sit There And Rot) until after my weekend when I could face it again.

Over the weekend She and her Email came to mind. These days I’m trying to get better at noticing when my buttons get pushed and asking myself things like “what do I need to do to get more peaceful about this?” Or, “what do I need to let go of here?” And I came up with a few items and felt a bit more at ease with the situation.

Then I must have been having a really good weekend, because I went a step further and asked myself, “what does my reaction teach me about myself?” For example, did her carefully laid out critique of my project bug me because *I* need to be right? Was I getting the opportunity to see my own arrogance and stubborness? (The answer is “yes” and “ouch”).

And then it ocurred to me – while the fact that she has a board up her butt bothers me, isn’t my own reaction showing me that I also have lumber lodged in my body? You bet it does. You think I wouldn’t have had comments about her projects too? Sure, I would have skipped the fancy formating, but same thing. And as nasty as that was to confront, I was relieved because I’d rather know the truth. I know that until I can see something clearly there’s no hope in heck of changing it.

I heard once that the things that bug you in other people are usually qualities you have in spades yourself. I think this was an example of that kind of mirroring for me. I also remembered that quote from the Dalai Lama where he said that our enemies are our greatest teachers. I think I get it.

I’ve been trying to spend more time on creative pursuits lately and discovered that the one thing that always gets in the way is “doing stuff”. I discovered you need to slow down to be creative. You need noodling time. And “just thinking” time. And that doesn’t exist when I’m racing against the clock totally stressed. So I’ve been trying to slow down in my life. I’ve figured out that it isn’t about doing a lot less, but having a different perspective about it. Here are some strategies I’ve found that work:

1. Get it out of your head. When your head is a-swirl with all the things that you’d like to get done, write it down. And leave it in a place where you might do something about it. I leave myself voicemail at work for things I can do at lunch and send email home for stuff that needs to be done there. And yes, I write stuff on my hand for things that need to be done in between. I can forget about it, because I know I won’t *completely* forget about it.

2. Get your yah-yahs out. Whether it’s hiking up a hill, doing Sun Salutations until you can’t, talking through your issues with a life coach, ranting to your girlfriend or writing in a journal – it really helps to get your yah-yahs out. We all know what little pressure cookers can we turn into when everything is locked in tight inside. Get it out and feel less intense afterwards.

3. Let some to-do’s go. Sometimes the to-do list is huge, but really the items belong in roughly three buckets. Stuff that needs to get done for survival. Stuff that will feel really good to get done. And third bucket is things that *should* get done. Can I let things in the third group go? Or at least put them off another week or two? You bet. I give myself permission to procrastinate that stuff until they get to bucket 1 or 2.

4. Give yourself putter time. I often get just as much done puttering aimlessly doing things as they occur to me as I do when I work through a list with militant precision. Puttering is a lot more fun (and creative).

5. Watch the self-talk. Ever notice what you say to yourself when you’re stressed? Being aware of my own self-talk reminds me of that saying “with friends like that who needs enemies?” Sometimes things get pretty nasty in our heads and we’re the worst for laying the guilt and stress on ourselves. Try replacing it with reminders to slow down. My faves are: “That can wait”. “I need to do it this in my time” ie. not rush to the perceived beat of someone else’s drum. “It’ll all get done”. And “First things first” when it feels like there are a million things that need to be done first.

6. Exchange Perfect for Good-Enough. We all have high standards about certain things that make our lives miserable. Which ones can you let go of? What *needs* to be Perfect for you? If I invite friends for dinner I inevitably start making mountains out of molehills. What am I trying to prove? They love me already. I could probably feed them stuff from a can and they’d just be happy we’re together sharing some wine.

7. Get outta town. The Brits have a term I like – “mini-breaks”. Sometimes getting away for a weekend or afternoon can make a huge improvement in resetting our pace and renewing our perspective. This is a good time of year to skip town and enjoy nature. Find some colored leaves. Find the perfect pumpkin in the field where it grew. The snow will fly and we’ll be into the holiday crazies before we know it. Practiced slowing down now.

8. Take mini-breaks during the day. Have a non-work conversation during the work day, take a lunchbreak, get outside, find a corner to do a yoga pose. I find it’s a practice thing. If I *practice* taking breaks I feel less stressed out and can see the difficult things with a little detachment. With some detachment I’m better able to be calm when things get nutty.

9. Get out of your head. Rather than obsessing about *your* stupid boss, or *your* cold-congested head, or the traffic jam *you’re* stuck in – get out of your head. Can you do something for someone else? Say thanks for 5 things you’re most grateful for? Do something charitable, no matter how small? Take 5 of your favourite yoga breaths?

Those are a few strategies I’ve found so far. I’m no expert on slowing down yet, but until then, I’ll be practicing puttering in a pumpkin patch.

My friend told me that she’d had an ear massage at the end of yoga class and loved it. I did a bit of research and found out that there are a bunch of acupressure points in the ears so it’s a useful place to focus. A good ear massage releases tension from the neck and jaw. So I tried it out on the folks in last night’s yoga class during Savasana. It’s great because you can do it for yourself too:

1. With a finger and thumb massage the edge of the ears, flattening out the cartilage at the top. Move from top to bottom. When your fingers reach the bottom tug the ear lobes down gently. Repeat 3 times.
2. Tug outward on the circle of cartilage in the middle of the ear (not the ear canal) working from top to bottom.
3. Rub your head right behind the ears starting at the top and moving down. The juciest spot is the bottom third near the base of the skull.
4. Keep moving, rubbing fingers into the hollows at the base of your skull working toward the spine.

I used some ‘tranquility’ massage oil when I did this in class last night. I can always tell when it’s been a good Savasana session by how slowly people come back to sitting – last night was one of the slowest – so it must be good!

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